In honor of President Obama's re-election, I give you chapter 13! I have no clue if it's 12 pages of semi-lucid rambling, but R&R as always!
February 4th – February 17th
Camilla flicked ash nonchalantly onto the grey stone floor of the kitchen, staring at the pages of a National Geographic she'd found buried under a month's worth of mail stacked in the foyer. She looked up at the clock nailed to the wall above the stove, the minute hand only moving four minutes since she last lifted her head from a picture of mangroves in Sri Lanka.
With something of a growl, she threw the magazine across the room, landing just shy of the trash bin. What the hell was taking him so long?
She stood, walking into the music room where Sandström's cellphone sat atop the piano. Her fingers absently danced across a few of the higher keys before she opened up the dated Nokia to dial Horst's phone. Seven rings later it skipped to voicemail and she slammed the phone shut and dragged a hand across her face.
Sleep had eluded her for days. Ever since the news report came out declaring that once again her sister had defied death, she'd been shut up in the kitchen with Horst's phone to her ear and journalist's stolen laptop at her fingertips.
'I gave you one fucking job! One!'
Things went downhill fast from there. An hour into the screaming match between a strung out Jarrod and herself and Sandström started to panic. It took two black eyes and a powerful kick to the stomach for Horst to remind him that they were doing him a favor by keeping him alive while they were there. Camilla thought he was lucky Horst wasn't Ronald. A black eye was usually accompanied a broken skull and fatal brain hemorrhaging.
Since then the paunchy little shit was nowhere to be seen or heard. She wondered if he was trying to plot something. He was dangerously stupid enough to try, at least. More than once she had had the fleeting thought that she should just kill him and get it over with. Camilla had a good feeling he was the main source of the Millennium leak and deserved what was eventually coming to him.
But now all that would have to wait until she fixed the big fucking mess that was turning into her sister. Bomb number one: nobody home. Lundagatan: didn't live there anymore. Bomb number two: didn't work. Maybe she should have went ahead and shot her in Central Station the day before she'd killed Teleborian. Sure she still had the motorcycle club and drug dealers that needed immediate dealing with, but neither would have given her the same satisfaction as taking care of her sister once and for all.
Fiskargatan had been the best break she'd caught yet. It was amazing what a simple google search she'd run three days previously had turned up. She'd laughed for almost five minutes before dragging Horst in to see for himself how careless her sister had been. There was an irony there that Camilla would thoroughly enjoy pointing out when she finally met her sister face-to-face again.
Suddenly the windows seemed almost to implode on themselves as a loud boom came from the front yard. In a split second she had the curtains yanked open to the sight of Sandberg's golden Saab wagon embedded in a rosebush, narrowly missing a dormant cherry tree and several pines planted nearby.
Within seconds she was through the house and out the front door. The seatbelt alarm was alive and chirping loudly, while the dome light flicker pathetically. A porch light came on across the street just as Horst fell out of the car and face down on the pavement. A door slammed somewhere in the neighborhood as she watched her half-brother half-heartedly crawl towards the front door, clutching one arm close to him.
Camilla had no time to deal with whatever he'd gotten himself into and grabbed him by the back of his sweatshirt, hoisting him up onto unsteady legs. Her hand felt wet as she hissed at him to get inside before giving him a shove in the direction of the front door.
A neighbor across the street began making their way down the front stairs of their porch. Faces began to poke out from behind curtains, now curious at the sound of the Saab mowing down Sandström's shrubbery.
Camilla turned abruptly to see the woman from across the street standing on the sidewalk less than eight feet away from her. What the woman thought she could accomplish in a bathrobe, Camilla had no idea, but she tried her best to look sheepish. Standing under the street lamp, she could see that the woman wore a god-awful pink robe and matching hair curlers.
"Just too much to drink is all," she began in as an apologetic tone as possible, "The fence and the rose bushes are worse off than him."
"Are you sure?" The woman insisted, "It looked like he was staggering quite a bit!"
Camilla shrugged, "That's what booze can do to you."
"No, really," She looked down and did her best to hide her horror at the large bloodstain covering the paving stone beside her foot. The woman continued to stare at her with distrustful eyes as Camilla scooted her foot over the stain. "He's built like a tank. Sorry for the disturbance."
She held her ground as the woman made her way back across the street. When the porch light finally flickered off, she raked her feet across the flowerbed, kicking dirt over the trail of blood that led all the way to the front door and into the house. More blood slicked the foyer's linoleum, mingling with the mud and dirt that had accumulated there. Horst sat in the dining room, holding a scrunched white t-shirt that was quickly becoming soaked to the side of his face.
He swiped a hand at her as she removed the towel and began prodding the flaps of bloody scalp and skin with the tips of her fingers. With all the blood it was hard to tell, but she guessed it would be a roughly thirty-stitch job to get everything put back together.
She left him there to rummage through her backpack, finding a sewing kit with just enough string to make the sutures required and a reasonably strong needle. When she returned to the dining room she pulled up a chair alongside of Horst and began closing the gaping wound, settling into a slow rhythm.
After a few rows of stitches, she finally felt calm enough to ask about what had happened in Mosebacke.
"Your sister had a- ow, fuck-!" The sound of her hand making contact with the good side of his face echoing into the kitchen. For a moment, she quit tugging the thread through his face, her eyes daring him to make another sound. When he'd sufficiently calmed down, she returned to her work, rubbing a wet cloth across the side of his face to get a clear view of what she still had left to do.
"She walked in while I was there. I almost got her, but there was this fucking cat-" he stopped and inhaled sharply as she pulled the string through the seventeenth suture, "-and then someone stepped out of the elevator and I missed so I shot them instead."
When she was finished, she found her handiwork decent enough even if her patient squirmed too much. The sutures definitely looked much better than the few attempts she'd made on herself after sustaining various injuries that she couldn't go to an ER for. By the time she had the small sewing packed up in her bag and the bloody clothing burning in the fireplace Horst was out cold on the living room couch with a floral pillow under his head, slightly tinted from the freshly sutured wound.
Mikael's release from the hospital came sixteen days after the initial bombing. At a quarter to five, Annika stopped in to complete the chain of transfer. Wound care was more or less like when he'd broken his arm as a teen. Wear a bread bag over the arm to keep the graft from getting wet. Don't move or stretch the graft. Don't scratch it. The last order was proving the most difficult to abide by.
Since the night she disappeared, he had neither heard from nor seen Lisbeth. Fiskargatan was still a heavily monitored crime scene with a round the clock guard from what he'd heard from Annika. Neither of them would have been the least surprised to hear there was also a stakeout at the Lundagatan apartment.
Staring out the window of Annika's car, he wondered where in the literal world Lisbeth had fled to. Annika had said she'd taken her passport with her; that meant she'd gone abroad. Lisbeth had never told him about her travels almost three years prior. Based on the slight tan she had when she came back, he guessed somewhere around the equator. Maybe the tropics. He also knew she had a lawyer based in Gibraltar that had solicited her purchase of the Fiskargatan apartment.
In the end though, he really didn't have a single clue. He could be completely wrong and she could easily be laying low in some hideously expensive hotel smack in the middle of Stockholm. What did he really know about her?
He heaved another sigh, causing Annika to hazard a quick glance over at him staring out the window.
"Talk to me. Your being so quiet over there it's scaring me."
"Nothing." He attempted to shrug, but the heavy sling across his right shoulder prevented him from going so while at the same time pulled on his grafts. Annika continued to give him sideways looks until he finally gave up and gave her his default response. "Just my grafts."
She wasn't buying it. "You have codeine in your prescription bag for that," she said turning onto the long street that ended with a cul-de-sac and eventually her home. "What's really bothering you?"
"Let me think; maybe it's the fact that Lisbeth's being hunted like an animal again for saving your life?"
"She's not being hunted like an animal. They just want her for questioning."
"It's the same fucking difference!"
"Try not to speak like that in front of my daughters, okay Mikael?"
They had pulled up onto the gravel drive of Annika's home. A curtain slightly twitched as the gravel crunched under the car. Probably either one of the girls or Enrico's infuriating aunt. Mikael continued to stare out the side window when Annika shut off the car's engine, but his hand jumped to her arm as she made a move to open the driver side door.
"Hang on. Don't get out yet. There's someone sitting in that black car watching us."
"I know. They've been there every day for almost two weeks now."
Mikael's head snapped to face her suddenly, "And you haven't gone over and asked them what the hell they're doing?"
"I'm not sure I want to try!"
"Right then," Mikael struggled to undo his seatbelt with his right hand, the interior car alarm going off by the time he managed to undo it and stagger out of the vehicle. "Then I'll go ask them myself since you don't care to know who's been watching your house and family for two weeks."
He barely glanced at his sister before turning and walking down the rain-soaked street, ignoring her cries to come back.
When he got closer he saw the car had two men, both looking down at their laps with firm expressions. At once he thought that Bublanski had put Annika's house under surveillance in case Lisbeth tried to come back. Even after working a triple murder investigation and gutting every bit of her life apart in the process they had yet to figure out that Lisbeth didn't stick around.
He brought his good fist up and banged on the window, glaring at the two men. "Excuse me, what the hell are you doing staring at my sister's house?"
Neither of them looked up at the sound, but the one closest to him pressed a laminated badge to the window. Blomkvist squinted at it for a moment, before pulling back in complete confusion at the large blue 'M' at the top of the ID.
"Milton Security?" he said aloud, more to himself than to the men in the car. Of all the people who could be sitting in a car in front of his sister's house, he would suspect Milton the least likely. "What the hell is Milton doing here?"
No response. Even Lisbeth was more forthcoming than these two. "I know you can hear me in there! I guess I'll just call Armansky…" He held up his phone, still not even earning so much as a look from either man as they clicked away on their laptops.
"You're really not going to say anything are you?"
Mikael groaned. It was hopeless. Not one glance or any sense of acknowledgement other than flashing their Milton badge. If Mikael had more energy he might have smashed in the windows and demanded some sort of explanation, but instead he just felt defeated and cold in the mid February wind.
Annika sat on the white wooden steps leading up to the front door, looking straight at him as he walked stiffly up to her. "Curiosity sated? Enrico's almost done making supper."
"They're from Milton Security."
She held the door open for him as he stepped into the warm and impeccably decorated home. Her youngest daughter suddenly flits past her holding a red spiral notebook with 'math' written across the front in all capital letters. "What? Why?"
"That's what I plan to find out," he said, hugging his youngest niece as she put her arms around him and tossing the notebook aside. His phone began to ring inside his front jacket pocket while both his sister and niece rolled their eyes at the irritating jingle.
There was no caller ID displayed on the phone's screen when we pressed it up against his ear. "Speaking?"
"I heard you intended to call me." Armansky. Mikael checked the caller ID again, but it came up blank. It then occurred to him that at this time of night he'd probably be calling from home.
"You're damn right I did. There's an unmarked car from Milton outside of my sister's house. Neither myself or my sister sent for one so there's obviously been some sort a mistake made, plus they seem to suffer from select mute-ism."
"They're doing their job by not addressing you. As to why they're there, there's been no mistake. "
"How-" Blomkvist looked up to see his sister glowering at him and he realized he was shouting into the phone. "How has there been no mistake? Dragan, I'm looking right at the car that neither I or my sister's family want them here!"
"There's been no mistake," he repeated in his usual somber tone, "Lisbeth had them hired and I agreed to it. There is also another car outside of Holger Palmgren's care home. You would do well to leave them in peace. They're there for your protection."
Suddenly something clicked inside his head. Of course she would, he realized. She hadn't just 'fled' after what had happened. She hadn't 'fled' to avoid the police at all. She'd left to keep everyone she knew safe.
Somewhere, most likely in an entirely different country, she was laying low, but definitely not idle. There would be a computer in front of her with any number of screens and windows open, all with one main goal.
Getting a bigger gun.
His voice became hard, taking on the same tone he would use in a confrontation. "When did she speak with you? Has she spoken with you since?"
"Two weeks ago. It was the first and last time she's spoken with me since January."
"And that's it? She just ordered a pair security cars and hung up?"
Armansky groaned on the other end of the line. Mikael didn't care if he was trying the man's patience. It was what he got for keeping Lisbeth's request secret from him for two weeks. "Why would she do anything else?"
"Did she mention where she was or where she was going?"
"No. Why would she? I'm her ex-boss."
Blomkvist could think of nothing else to ask and once they exchanged the usual pleasantries, flipped the phone shut and placed it in his breast pocket before walking through the living room and into his sister's immaculate kitchen. Enrico's aunt sat in her usual place in front of the TV, watching a news program that Blomkvist could only describe as a slap in the face of journalism.
Through the archway leading into the kitchen, he saw Annika sitting at the small eat-in table across from her youngest daughter while Enrico danced around back and forth between the stove and counter, prepping dinner.
Annika looked up from checking the messy scrawl of her daughter's math homework when she noticed him walk in. "Well?"
Blomkvist grabbed a wooden stool from the kitchen island and dragged it to the empty side of the kitchen table. His legs were flush against the underside of the table as he spoke to his sister. "Lisbeth ordered two security details. One for here and one for Palmgren's care home."
"Lisbeth? Lisbeth Salander?"
Blomkvist dragged a hand across his face at the sound of Angelina's voice. She had something of a gift at picking up on conversations that she'd best stay out of along with a hideous sense of timing. He still couldn't quite understand why his sister had let the woman live with them, neither her nor her husband were very keen about her eccentricities, although he vaguely remembered a conversation some months ago about her being evicted from her nursing home. For what, he didn't care to know.
The wooden floor bounced as Angelina walked in, shaking with excitement at having something to talk about. "She was on the news today!"
Enrico, sensing nothing but trouble coming, turned his attention away from the stove for the briefest of seconds, giving his aging aunt a warning glare as she hovered by his wife and brother-In-law. She completely ignored him, instead looking through massive bug-eyed glasses at Annika with an expectant gaze.
Annika refused to look up at the older woman, gluing her eyes to the space on the table between her daughter and Blomkvist. "She's been on the news everyday, auntie."
"You should help the police catch her, then! She gets into too much trouble to be so innocent!"
"Whatever you say, auntie."
"Why do you ignore me like this, Annika? I know what you're thinking! 'Angelina's crazy! Angelina doesn't know what she's talking about'-but if I know one thing, it's that that girl is not normal. Why do you run away from the police if you're innocent? Can you answer that? No! So, she has to-"
"Oh for god's sake Angelina! You watch that ridiculous sensationalist 'news' program eighteen hours a day and then try to pass it off as if it's relevant information! You have no idea what you're saying half the time at the best of times, so can you please shut it and save us the hearing loss!"
The kitchen went dead silent. Enrico seemed at a loss for what to do, holding an empty plate in mid air with his mouth slightly agape. Annika, while not so animated, had all the fury of hell burning in her eyes at the sound of his outburst.
"Mikael. Porch. Now." Annika stood, hauling her brother up from the stool by the back of his collar while looking sternly at Angelina, "You, go watch TV until it's time to eat."
Blomkvist barely managed to keep himself upright when Annika shoved him out onto the porch. The white wooden door shook in its frame as she slammed it behind her, her face livid. "What the hell was that?"
"How do you put up with her, Annika? What amazing power do you have that makes it bearable to live with that woman?"
"I ignore her you fucking idiot! She would have gotten fed up with having a completely dead audience if you hadn't shouted at her and gave her another minute!"
"Why? So I would have to put up with another minute of her stupidity?"
With a speed he never thought she possessed, he barely caught the sudden movement of her hand drawing back before the sound of her hand meeting his cheek broke through the air, the impact forcing him to see stars.
"What she says might be a load of conservative bullshit," she said through gritted teeth, "but at least she doesn't act like an asshole about it. So help me Mikael and I will kick you out on the curb if you pull a stunt like that again. You want some real advice right now? Stop bitching and get to work. Use my computer, use my phone, even use my motherly chauffeur services, but don't think I'm going to stand for you acting like a prick in front of my family again. Are we clear?"
Blomkvist clasped his hands together on a curb in Ersta as his sister's forest green Volvo pulled away from the curb. She would be back to pick him up in three hours unless he called her with a change of plans. It'd been three days since his release from the hospital, most of which he spent formulating the best plan to track down Lisbeth and stay away from his aunt-in-law. The latter he had for the most succeeded in while the former was proving to be just as difficult as he thought it would be.
Before him was the eight patient group home Palmgren had been transferred to in early November the previous year. A lone man in a familiar blue winter jacket was hunched over a flowerbed digging away with a small trowel.
"You're gardening in mid-February?"
"Planting bulbs for summer." Palmgren seemed unfazed by his sudden intrusion, getting up from the ground without a single tremor. "How are you, Blomkvist?"
"Come inside, then." The older man tossed the trowel into the bag before leading Blomkvist up the steps to the enclosed porch. He took his time putting the gardening supplies away, not paying the journalist much attention. Blomkvist noticed the open wooden chess set sitting on the small table tucked under one of the windows among the many things spread around the enclosed porch. He wondered how much time Palmgren spent reading and practicing only to be crushed by Lisbeth in their games.
"Did you see that black car parked across the street with the two men inside when you pulled up? They've been parked there for two weeks now." Blomkvist's head snapped up at the unexpected question. So Palmgren didn't know he was being watched, either.
"There's a car parked down the street from my sister's house as well."
"I don't understand it at all. I can knock on the glass for an hour and the men inside won't even take one look up at me."
Mikael smirked. "I know the feeling. They're from Milton actually. I just found out a few day ago that they've been stalking us both."
Palmgren finally looked up, the expression on his face unreadable. "Armansky is in on this, is he?"
"He is. And so is Lisbeth."
At the mention of Lisbeth, Palmgren's face immediately lit up. "Is she? I thought she didn't work for Milton anymore."
"She doesn't. She hired the two teams as a private client."
"That's quite an expense," Palmgren said slowly.
"She's managing very well."
"I don't want to know," He waved a hand to keep Blomkvist from elaborating any further. There were some aspects of his former ward's life that were better off unheard by his ears.
"My gut and my sister have told me she's probably left the country again. The last time I saw her was when my sister offered to drive her home from the hospital. After that something happened at her apartment that nearly got my sister and herself killed." Blomkvist shrugs. "She has no where to really go anymore except away. Her best friend is living in her Lundagatan apartment. My apartment's burnt to the ground."
"I've been following the news closely since January. Whatever's going on right now is family business, so to speak."
Palmgren smiled sadly. The man was much more perceptive than anyone would give him credit for. Blomkvist wondered what else the other man might have picked up on over the last few weeks. If there was anyone out there alive who could help him hunt down the two Salander twins, it would be the man in front of him.
"Your arm," Palmgren said, pointing at Blomkvist's blue sling, "And whatever other injuries and damages Millennium suffered would have been a horrific offense, the last straw."
"She wanted blood. The day I was admitted to the hospital she was in such a rage. If she'd found Camilla..." Blomkvist trailed off, shaking his head. He could still see the look of fury on her face when she first walked into him room that night, how every muscle was tense with the urge to lash out at the first provocation. There was no sisterly reunion waiting at the end of the road.
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